Fox News Source: O'Donnell Chose Hannity To Get 'Certain Kind of Treatment'

››› ››› JOE STRUPP

A Fox News source tells Media Matters that Christine O'Donnell's decision to cancel an appearance on Fox News Sunday, but appear two days later on Sean Hannity's show, indicated "she made a choice about interviews where she felt she would get a certain kind of treatment."

Several media observers and ethicists, meanwhile, criticized Fox News for allowing O'Donnell to appear in what was clearly a friendlier environment just days after she canceled Fox News Sunday, with one observer declaring Fox's handling of the situation "speaks to a lack of professional integrity within the organization."

Fox News Sunday staffers were "shocked" when O'Donnell cancelled after extensive promotions were done about her appearance, the same Fox source said, adding that frantic efforts were made to change her mind.

"She shocked people when she changed her mind because she had made a commitment," said the source who requested anonymity but had knowledge of the events. "There were calls made to her political advisors and her people to persuade her that it was a bad idea. I think people were very upset and felt it is unprofessional to make a commitment to a Sunday show when the audience is made up of influential people."

Fox News officials did not respond to requests for comment. O'Donnell also cancelled a Sunday appearance on CBS' Face the Nation.

Several media veterans criticized Fox for allowing O'Donnell to choose her interview after disrupting the network's premiere Sunday show.

Edward Wasserman, a journalism ethics instructor at Washington and Lee University and regular media columnist, said the incident shows Fox's poor news judgment. "It speaks to a lack of professional integrity within the organization, but it is a more common practice," he said. "Fox let its own public down by letting itself be used this way."

"Media complicity in allowing O'Donnell or any other person who becomes a national figure to escape hard, tough questioning is flat-out irresponsible and dangerous," adds Michael Getler, PBS ombudsman. "It would seem to apply to this case."

Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, agreed: "I would like to see us in a position where candidates don't get to pick and choose which shows they go to. Tough questions have to get asked. I think the voters in Delaware would like to see that."

Asked about the treatment O'Donnell received on Hannity, Smith said, "I doubt that they made it exceedingly difficult for her and she knows that."

Al Tompkins, an instructor in broadcast and online issues at The Poynter Institute, said such interview choices are common in today's television news, but said that does not make it right.

He agreed that Hannity would give O'Donnell an easier appearance than Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace. "He is more sympathetic to Republicans generally," Tompkins said of Hannity, adding, "Chris's show is not a pushover. Candidates hope for great coverage, but it should not stop [Fox News Sunday] from getting her on the show."

Geneva Overholser, former ombudsman for The Washington Post and currently director of journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said Fox's reputation does not make such actions a surprise. "I can understand why people at Fox News Sunday might be unhappy," she said. "But knowing what we know about this network it is not shocking."

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